Pneumatic Origami

Odds are that if you’ve been to the beach or gone camping or somewhere in between, you are familiar with inflatable products like air mattresses. It’s nothing spectacular to see a rectangle inflate into a thicker, more comfortable rectangle, but what if your air mattress inflated into the shape of a crane?

We’ve seen similar ideas in quadcopters and robots using more mechanical means, but this is method uses air instead. To make this possible, the [Tangible Media Group] out of [MIT’s Media Lab] have developed aeroMorph — a program that allows the user to design inflatable constructs from paper, plastic or fabric with careful placement of a few folding joints.

These designs are exported and imprinted onto the medium by a cartesian coordinate robot using a heat-sealing attachment. Different channels allow the medium to fold in multiple directions depending on where the air is flowing, so this is a bit more complicated than, say, a bouncy castle. That, and it’s not often you see paper folding itself. Check it out!

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An Unconference Badge That’s Never Gonna Give You Up

When your publication is about to hold a major event on your side of the world, and there will be a bring-a-hack, you abruptly realise that you have to do just that. Bring a hack. With the Hackaday London Unconference in the works this was the problem I faced, and I’d run out of time to put together an amazing PCB with beautiful artwork and software-driven functionality to amuse and delight other attendees. It was time to come up with something that would gain me a few Brownie points while remaining within the time I had at my disposal alongside my Hackaday work.

Since I am a radio enthusiast at heart, I came up with the idea of a badge that the curious would identify as an FM transmitter before tuning a portable radio to the frequency on its display and listening to what it was sending. The joke would be of course that they would end up listening to a chiptune version of [Rick Astley]’s “Never gonna give you up”, so yes, it was going to be a radio Rickroll.

The badge internals.
The badge internals.

I evaluated a few options, and ended up with a Raspberry Pi Zero as an MP3 player through its PWM lines, feeding through a simple RC low-pass filter into a commercial super-low-power FM transmitter module of the type you can legally use with an iPod or similar to listen on a car radio. To give it a little bit of individuality I gave the module an antenna, a fractal design made from a quarter wavelength of galvanised fence wire with a cut-off pin from a broken British mains plug as a terminal. The whole I enclosed in a surplus 8mm video cassette case with holes Dremmeled for cables, with the FM module using its own little cell and the Pi powered from a mobile phone booster battery clipped to its back. This probably gave me a transmitted field strength above what it should have been, but the power of those modules is so low that I am guessing the sin against the radio spectrum must have been minor.

At the event, a lot of people were intrigued by the badge, and a few of them were even Rickrolled by it. But for me the most interesting aspect lay not in the badge itself but in its components. First I looked at making a PCB with MP3 and radio chips, but decided against it when the budget edged towards £20 ($27). Then I looked at a Raspberry Pi running PiFM as an all-in-one solution with a little display HAT, but yet again ran out of budget. An MP3 module, Arduino clone, and display similarly became too expensive. Displays, surprisingly, are dear. So my cheapest option became a consumer FM module at £2.50 ($3.37) which already had an LCD display, and a little £5 ($6.74) computer running Linux that was far more powerful than the job in hand demanded. These economics would have been markedly different had I been manufacturing a million badges, but made a mockery of the notion that the simplest MCU and MP3 module would also be the cheapest.

Rickrolling never gets old, it seems, but evidently it has. Its heyday in Hackaday projects like this prank IR repeater seems to have been in 2012.

Fun-Size Geiger Counter Sits atop a 9-Volt Battery

Want a little heads-up before walking into a potentially dangerous radioactive area? Sure, we all do. But the typical surplus Civil Defense Geiger counter is just too bulky to fit into the sleek, modern every-day carry of the smartphone age. So why not slim down your first line of defense against achieving mutant status with this tiny Geiger counter (Facebook)?

We jest about the use cases for a personal-sized Geiger counter, as [Ian King]’s inspiration for this miniaturized build was based more on a fascination with quantifying the unseen world around us. Details are thin in his post, but [Ian] kindly shared the backstory for this build with us. Working on a budget and mostly with spare parts, the big outlay in the BOM was $20 for a Soviet-era SBM-10 tube, itself a marvel of miniaturization. While waiting the two months needed for the tube to arrive, [Ian] whipped up a perf board circuit with a simple oscillator and a CFL transformer to provide the 400 volts needed for the tube. The whole circuit, complete with tiny speaker and an LED to indicate pulses, sits neatly on top of a 9-volt battery. The video below shows it in action with a test source.

Geiger counters are not exactly rare projects on Hackaday, and with good reason. Take a look at this no-solder scrap bin counter or this traveling GPS Geiger counter built dead-bug style.

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The Illuminated Waterways of the United States

A recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter, redditor [i-made-a-thing] was in want of a project and — stumbling on some waterways maps on Etsy — launched into fabricating an illuminated map of all the waterways in the United States.

The map itself was laser-cut out of 1/4 inch plywood at his local makerspace. Thing is, smaller rivers and tributaries were too narrow at the scale [i-made-a-thing] wanted, so he ended up spending several hours in Photoshop preparing the image so larger rivers would be laser-cut — and not break off– while the rest would be etched onto the surface. After testing the process by making a few coasters, he was ready to get started on the real deal.

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Salvaging Your Way to a Working Tesla Model S for $6500

If you possess modest technical abilities and the patience of a few dozen monks, with some skillful haggling you can land yourself some terrific bargains by salvaging and repairing. This is already a well-known ideology when it comes to sourcing things like electronic test gear, where for example a non working unit might be purchased from eBay and fixed for the price of a few passive components.

[Rich] from Car Guru has taken this to a whole new level by successfully salvaging a roadworthy Tesla Model S for $6500!

Sourcing and rebuilding a car is always a daunting project, in this case made even more challenging because the vehicle in subject is fairly recent, state of the art electric vehicle. The journey began by purchasing a black Tesla Model S, that [Rich] affectionately refers to as Delorean. This car had severe water damage rendering most of its electronics and mechanical fasteners unreliable, so [Rich’s] plan was to strip this car of all such parts, and sell what he could to recover the cost of his initial purchase. After selling the working modules of the otherwise drenched battery, motor and a few other bells and whistles his initial monetary investment was reduced to the mere investment of time.

With an essentially free but empty Tesla shell in his possession, [Rich] turned his attention to finding a suitable replacement for the insides. [Rich] mentions that Tesla refused to sell spare parts for such a project, so his only option was to purchase a few more wrecked vehicles. The most prominent of these wrecks was nicknamed Slim Shady. This one

The Donor

had an irreparable shell but with most electronics preserved, and would serve as the donation vehicle. After painstakingly transplanting all the required electronics and once again selling what he did not need, his net investment came to less than 10% of a new car!

Was all of the effort worth it? We certainly think it was! The car was deemed road worthy and even has functioning Super Charging capabilities which according to [Rich] are disabled by Tesla if such a Frankenstein build is detected.

At this point it would probably be instructive to ask [Rich] if he would do it again, but he is already at it, this time salvaging the faster self driving P86. We suggest you stay tuned.

[Thankyou to Enio Fernandes for sending in the tip]

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Friday Hack Chat: All About Drones

In the future, drones will fill the skies. The world is abuzz (ha!) with news of innovative uses of unmanned aerial vehicles. Soon, our flying robotic overlords will be used for rescue operations, surveillance, counter-insurgency missions, terrorism, agriculture, and delivering frozen dog treats directly from the local Amazon aerodrome to your backyard. The future is nuts.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about unmanned aerial vehicles. This is a huge subject, ranging from aeronautical design, the legal implications of autonomous flying machines, the true efficiency of delivering packages via drones, and the moral ambiguity of covering a city with thousands of mobile, robotic observation posts. In short, the future will be brought to us thanks to powerful brushless motors and lithium batteries.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Piotr Esden-Tempski], developer of UAV autopilot hardware for Paparazzi UAV. Paparazzi can be used for autonomous flight and control of multiple aircraft, and we’ll be talking about the types of embedded systems that can be used for these applications. [Pitor] is also the developer of the 1Bitsy ARM dev platform, the Black Magic Probe JTAG/SWD programmer/debugger and the founder of 1BitSquared.

In this Hack Chat, we’ll be discussing Open Source hardware design for UAVs, all things airborne robotics, the sensors that go into these flying robots, the stalled development (ay, another pun) of consumer and prosumer fixed-wing UAVs, ARM embedded systems, and JTAG and SWD programming and debugging. We’re also taking questions from the audience, and here’s the spreadsheet that will guide the discussion.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will be going down noon, Pacific time on Friday, September 22nd. Sidereal and solar getting you down? Wondering when noon is this month? Not a problem: here’s a handy countdown timer!

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Hackaday Prize Entry: MOLBED Braille Display

Electromechanical braille displays, where little pins pop up or drop down to represent various characters, can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. That’s where the Modular Low-cost Braille Electro Display, aka MOLBED, steps up. The project’s creator, [Madaeon] aims to create a DIY-friendly, 3D-printable,  and simple braille system. He’s working on a single character’s display, with the idea it could be expanded to cover a whole row or even offer multiple rows.

[Madeon]’s design involves using Flexinol actuator wire to control whether a pin sticks or not. He designed a “rocker” system consisting of a series of 6 pins that form the Braille display. Each pin is actuated by two Flexinol wires, one with current applied to it and one without, popping the pin up about a millimeter. Swap polarity and the pin pops down to be flush with the surface.

This project is actually [Madeon]’s second revision of the MOLBED system. The first version, an entry to the Hackaday Prize last year, used very small solenoids with two very small magnets at either end of the pole to hold the pin in place. The new system, while slightly more complex mechanically, should be easier to produce in a low-cost version, and has a much higher chance of bringing this technology to people who need it. It’s a great project, and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.